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Afghan special forces commando seeking asylum gets caught in broken US immigration system

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This is a story about an Afghan soldier and a tragically broken U.S. immigration and asylum system.

Abdul Wasi Safi was trained by the U.S. military to be an elite special forces commando in Afghanistan. When Kabul fell, Wasi was still fighting the Taliban in the north. On Aug. 30, 2021, when the last U.S. plane left Kabul, Wasi went into hiding, moving from safe house to safe house arranged by U.S. veterans who helped him get to Pakistan. He hoped to receive a special immigrant visa and to legally move to the U.S. 

The Taliban had his biometric data, left behind by the U.S. government, and they were hunting him. Now, Wasi sits in a Texas prison facing deportation to Kabul and certain death, a poster child for America’s broken asylum system. 

“I was in a special force commando unit with the U.S. military,” Wasi told Fox News in a phone interview from Eden Detention Center in Texas. “I wanted to come to the United States. I don’t select another country to help me because I was with them. But I come here, and they put me in jail.”

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Afghans with guns

Afghans with guns
(Fox News)

He described a year-long treacherous journey across two continents. After receiving a visa to Brazil, he soon realized Afghans were viewed as terrorists in Latin America. So, he began making his way to the U.S. border. He made his way on foot and by bus through 10 countries and was robbed, tortured and beaten. He shared with Fox News some of the videos he took crossing the Darien Gap near Panama, a dangerous crossing. He received treatment along the way that he expected from the Taliban. 

“Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. I cross all that distance to come to United States because I was thinking and hoping the American government that they will help me,” Wasi told Fox.

Instead, he was arrested at the border trying to cross the Rio Grande.

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“The Panama Police tortured me. In front of all people, they beat me. They called me terrorist,” Wasi said. “I don’t know why. Without any reason, they tortured me. I don’t know why.”

Wasi’s brother Sami-ullah Safi worked as a translator for the U.S. military starting in 2010. In 2015, Sami moved to Houston on a special immigrant visa and became a U.S. citizen in July 2021, one month before Kabul fell. 

He has been trying to help his brother make his way to the U.S. since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. He said he is shocked what his brother went through to get to Texas and his treatment ever since.

“People were in the river dead. On the way walking, multiple people died. And, in the jungle, he explained that there was type of people that would sometimes rob and mostly kill people. And he survived it,” Sami said in disbelief. He worked with U.S. veterans groups to pay for Wasi’s journey and arrange his visa to Brazil.

Foreigners board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2021.

Foreigners board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2021.
(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

“Instead of him being welcomed in Brazil by locals and people that were living in the area, which was designated for the Afghans, they started to treat Afghans as terrorists. And he was robbed and beaten by mobs in Brazil,” Sami said. “He will never be able to forget the torture that was given to him by the Panamanian police. They strip his clothes. They beat him to the point that they could no longer beat him.”

On Sept. 30, Wasi finally crossed over the Rio Grande into the United States, where he thought he would be greeted with open arms by the American government and the special forces he served alongside. He assumed they knew who he was.

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“I have biometric data with the U.S. military,” Wasi said. “Also, I have biometric with the special force command. I was in Marmol Camp. There was U.S. military there. U.S. Army was there. We went together to missions.”

Sami explained why they both feel disappointed in the U.S. government and the U.S. military Wasi served.

“He is deeply disappointed. And he is calling upon those who were always telling him, ‘We’re fighting against common enemy. We are fighting shoulder to shoulder.’ He is calling upon those who were calling him ‘battle buddy,’” Sami said. “He was not expecting this behavior from United States officials against him. He was expecting a hero’s welcome.”

Instead, after crossing the Rio Grande, a border patrol agent found him after following his footprints. Wasi asked the agent for asylum and was instead arrested and charged with a federal crime for illegally entering the country. He was first taken to the Val Verde Correctional Facility and now sits in the Eden Detention Facility in Texas.

Ben Owen is a U.S. veteran who started the nonprofit Flanders Fields to help homeless veterans and Afghans and has helped the Safi family navigate the legal complexities.

“The night he crossed, I think he was with 90-plus other migrants, all of whom were detained, all of whom have been released. But the one dude that served with American forces who we know, you know, has America’s best interests at heart to the point that he would put himself in harm’s way to defend it, is still being held,” Owen told Fox News. 

Wasi is facing a criminal sentence for crossing the border illegally and deportation to Afghanistan.

“To answer your question about how we know who he is, we had found him on the rolls through the last special operation task force commander to leave Afghanistan,” Owen said. “So he is exactly who he says he is. We’ve got all the certifications. We know he went to officer training in India and held command. I mean, these guys are more vetted than you and I, Jennifer. We’re talking annual polygraphs. We know every single thing there is to know about them. There’s no chance that they’re terrorists.”  

Immigrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the border from Mexico. The U.S.-Mexico border barrier is in the background Aug. 6, 2022 in Yuma, Ariz. 

Immigrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the border from Mexico. The U.S.-Mexico border barrier is in the background Aug. 6, 2022 in Yuma, Ariz. 
(Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images)

In fact, even after Wasi was captured and incarcerated, his brother Sami continues to help American veterans like Ben Owen. 

“This guy continues to volunteer his services and to put his heart on the line for America, even after his brother was detained,” Owen recalled in disbelief. “This guy continues to put himself in harm’s way for America, even after America has detained his brother and threatened him with deportation. It’s unconscionable.”

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Owen was referring to a recent volunteer effort in which Sami joined him in Houston to catch a fugitive charged with murder in Atlanta.

“I did everything I could to the best of my ability for this country. My brother put his life in danger, working in a special forces, which was not accepted by a lot of people in Afghanistan. And I worked alongside the United States military, and I was not expecting this to happen to my brother,” Sami said from his home in Houston, five hours from where his brother remains incarcerated in a U.S. detention facility with the country’s worst criminals.

The Department of Homeland Security has not answered Fox’s repeated requests for information on Wasi’s case. The Justice Department has declined to comment. His next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10.

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